Not so long ago, Yountville was a sleepy farming village where freight trains stopped to pick up produce and drop off supplies.  We always hoped it was named for Milwaukee baseball legend Robin Yount, but it actually got its name from one George Yount, who was reputed to have planted the first vineyard in Napa Valley.

There are many reasons why it grew into the tourist mecca it is today, not least being the explosion of interest in California winemaking.  But if Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, then Yountville is the Town that Thomas Keller Put on the Map. Beginning with French Laundry, he has added Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc to his restaurant empire, all along Washington Street in Yountville.  Keller has recently opened La Calenda, a Mexican restaurant in the location that used to house the late, lamented Hurley’s.

With all that, Yountville is now the culinary capital of Napa Valley.  After his time as chef at Domaine’s Chandon’s Étoile restaurant, Philippe Jeanty opened Bistro Jeanty, a veritable reproduction of a country French bistro.  Richard Reddington added Redd and then Redd Wood.  And on and on.  It’s hard to find a bad meal in Yountville.

With the restaurants came the diners and the shoppers.  Washington and Yount Streets abound with boutiques, topped by the V Marketplace, a shopping center with the full line of Napa Style accessories, housewares, wines, restaurants and galleries that give Napa Valley its fashion tone (and fill your mailbox with catalogs).

Photo courtesy of

There are also a number of tasting rooms along Washington Street.  As with all in-town tastings, there are some that are well worth a stop and others that are best passed by.  Unfortunately, there is little way to know in advance which is which.  In Yountville, we have enjoyed Priest Ranch and Beau Vigne, which is not to say that some of the others aren’t worthwhile.

As a visitor to Yountville, a great way to enjoy it is to make a day of it.  This is especially good advice on a weekend, when the roads and wineries on Route 29 are jammed.  Begin with breakfast at Bouchon Bakery.  You’ll stand in line for coffee and croissants but the wait will be worth it.  Sit outside at one of the little tables and think about all the places you will go today.  Well fortified, you can try a winery and look into a gallery or two.  Then it’s time for lunch.  Why not a pizza at Redd Wood or a salad at R & D Kitchen?

A few more wineries in the afternoon and some serious boutique-ing come next.  Be smart about the alcohol you consume; still, it’s nice to know that you don’t have to get behind the wheel to go from place to place.  An aperitif at the bar at Bistro Jeanty will give you the chance to mingle with a few locals.  Then it’s off to dinner.

Yountville at Christmastime.  Photo courtesy of

As noted, the choice of restaurants is broad, but if you want to be in with the in crowd, queue up for a table at Ciccio.  Run by the owners of Altamura Vineyards, Ciccio doesn’t take reservations and it is always packed with people who have the patience to dine there.

A final word: visit Yountville at Christmas season.  They wrap every tree on Washington Street in little white lights and the town becomes a fairyland.  It’s magical.    And the crowds are less in December as well.

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